Celebrities & Kidney Failure

Celebrities & Kidney Failure

It’s common in the film industry to see celebrities – actors, writers, directors – as superhuman. The glitz and glamor of the job leads the world to see them as impervious to the illnesses and diseases that affect the the rest of us. Often, privacy is paramount while trying to maintain the image of perfection or invulnerability, usually to avoid financial fallout. But the truth is that, just like everyone else, they’re vulnerable – and this isn’t a bad thing. Downplaying illness to the public, however, is a harmful precedent to set.

In early 2000, Steven Spielberg was admitted to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to have a kidney removed. No one was aware he’d been sick, at least very few people outside of his immediate family. To the public, this news came as a huge shock. For the most part, however, his condition was downplayed as much as possible. Statements from his publicists said he’d had a kidney “irregularity” and was already back at home recovering and even getting back to work. Illness, it seems, is an undesirable trait to those in show business. For some, it can ruin a career. Keeping mum about it is often considered to be the best policy, despite the precedent it sets.

But the phenomenon of speaking out about illness at all in Hollywood is a relatively new one. We’re progressively seeing a growth in this trend, particularly around mental illness. Even though little was known about Spielberg’s condition, the public was still made aware. With others, such as Alfred Hitchcock, that’s not the case.

Celebrities & Kidney Failure

Hitchcock was a notoriously private man, a decision further necessitated by his fame. With his passing in 1980, it was revealed that he had a pacemaker and was suffering from arthritis and kidney failure, which was later declared to be his cause of death. Little else is known about what might have led to his kidney failure, or if something could have been done sooner to prevent it.

This leads us to one final example of a director who suffered from kidney failure: Howard Hughes.

Celebrities & Kidney Failure

Hughes died in 1976 at 70 years old. He’d been a complete recluse for the last decade or so of his life, as his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) started to result in self-harm. When he passed, he was unrecognizable. He’d shrunk in height and his once-tall frame now weighed merely 90 lbs. Due to his OCD, he refused to drink water and became so selective about what food he’d consume that he barely ate at all. It was this malnutrition that likely contributed to his kidney failure and eventual demise. But all the while, this is the portrait we remember of Hughes; the eccentric millionaire who gave the tabloids great fodder fueled by the rumor mill of Hollywood.  

While we’ve made some progress with frank public discussions of illness and disease in Hollywood, there’s still a long way to go. More people in the public eye are making active efforts to take better care of themselves rather than hiding from their conditions. But hiding illness and disease, even while treating it, only makes the notion that fame makes you immortal all the more prevalent. Speaking publicly about things like kidney disease, especially from such a powerful platform, can help the layperson become more aware of the signs and symptoms, and, potentially, help more people seek treatment.

 

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